French Bicycle Luggage 1 – Panniers – Lafuma, Sologne, Berthoud

It’s always good to have luggage the fits the age and style of the bicycle… In this case the French touring bicycle. Below are examples of small panniers from three French makers, from different periods – Lafuma, Sologne and Berthoud. The Lafuma examples are the earliest, dating from the 1950’s/60’s, whilst the Sologne items were supplied new with an Alex Singer bicycle in 1970 and hardly used. The Berthoud pannier is new. Berthoud bought the Sologne brand many years ago and continues to make a range of their products today, largely to the old patterns, but brought up to date with modern attachments.

There has been much debate elsewhere about the quality of Berthoud items in comparison with the original Sologne pieces, and indeed I would agree that the finest bags pictured here are the Sologne ones, but one has to remember that as well as the problems of finding skilled workers today to make these items, the materials change over the years too. The leather used by Berthoud is not as good as the Sologne bags, whilst the canvas is much the same high quality. The backing boards on the Berthoud bags are also robust, probably better than Sologne. The plastic Rixen and Kaul attachments, which adapt to virtually any rack, are ugly and obtrusive but the latest versions of these work well in practice. Previous R & K fittings had design problems, were fiddly to adjust, and often broke. The point about the Berthoud items is that for the price, they are really a very fine quality item, and are well suited to a stylish modern bicycle. They also age nicely, the canvas fades a bit and they acquire ‘patina’. If you want the exceptional quality it comes at a price – Check out the beautiful items made by Shoichi Watanabe.

Lafuma comes third in my reckoning. Thinner canvas, cheapish quality leather and lightweight rivets and fittings, characterise these offerings. On all of the ones that I’ve seen, the backing boards distort badly and are not waterproof. Rather than the functional spring anchor on the reverse of the Sologne bag, there is a crude leather tie to secure the pannier to the rack – fiddly and not very secure. Nonetheless they look ‘correct’ and function reasonably on a period machine where they are likely to encounter only light use.

In later posts I will take a look at French handlebar bags and early cycling luggage.

Click on photo for large scale detailed image

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